Aylesbury Vale and the growth of the Paralympics

Author Steve Katon, 2nd December 2022

The Finmere Horse show ran between 1959 and 2015, becoming a much-loved and eagerly awaited part of the equestrian calendar. Special guests such as Red Rum, Aldaniti, Lester Piggott, John Hurt or Michael Aspel could make up a ‘Who’s Who’ of the equestrian or celebrity scene of the time, but the show’s legacy reaches far beyond the small village and demonstrates the lasting impact a community can have when they pull together.
The first show in 1959 was called the Sally Haynes Show. Sally was a 19-year-old promising steeplechaser and the show was organised to raise funds for her after she’d been seriously injured in a fall.

Sally’s recollections of the day of her accident are understandably sketchy. She was on an unfamiliar horse called Nicholas, a frisky horse who tended to pull his head towards the ground. Her last memory of the day was gently chiding him. The last words she remembers saying that day were, ‘Don’t be ridiculous, Nicholas!’

Sally’s friend, Jane Ridd, an eyewitness, picks up the story.

Sally was such a good horsewoman that no horse could unstick her.

And this was the case with Nicholas. After slipping, the horse went down, but Sally stayed mounted with Nicholas rolling on top of her, the hard-backed leather saddle, which this accident helped to outlaw, crushing her spine.

After a stay in Northampton Hospital, Sally was eventually transferred to Stoke Mandeville under the care of Dr. Ludwig Guttmann. Unfortunately, Sally wasn’t insured to ride Nicholas, so had no way of paying for essential modifications she needed before returning home. This is where the community stepped in. Sally and Jane’s fathers were well-connected in the equestrian scene and with their contacts, and a huge amount of good will in the local area, the Finmere Show was born.

The first show, held at Hill Leys in Finmere included huge names from the horse jumping and racing world, such as Lester Piggott, David Broome, Michael Scudamore and Dick Francis. The event attracted more than 6,000 visitors making it one of the largest shows held in the country that year.

Due to its initial popularity, the event became an annual fixture. Instead of Sally receiving the money she asked for it to go to the Paraplegic Sports Fund at Stoke Mandeville in recognition of the great care she received there. In total the shows raised more than £50,000 for the fund.

Dr Guttmann receiving a cheque from The Finmere Show committee

The Finmere Horse Show Committee presenting Dr Guttmann with a cheque.
Left to right: Lionel Vick, Chairman, Jane Trewell, Secretary, and Sally Haynes, Vice Chairman and Assistant Secretary.